Models of Grief & Bereavement

Over the years, researchers and clinicians have developed a better understanding of the grief and bereavement process.

The most notable of which is Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who in 1969, developed the five stages of grief most people are familiar with today: 1.) Denial, 2.) Anger, 3.) Bargaining, 4.) Depression, and 5.) Acceptance. It should be noted that the stages of grief are often not experienced as linear; it can be cyclical, with a person moving back and forth over time.

Another model was developed by Dr. J.W. Worden in the early 1980’s, which describes a series of four tasks. According to this model, a person must work hard to complete these tasks to help move through the process: 1.) Acknowledge the reality of the loss, 2.) Experience the Pain of Grief, 3.) Adjusting to a Life without the Child, and 4.) Moving forward.

Other models have been developed by Sigmund Freud and John Bowlby, which place the emphasis more on the attachment that the individual has. For more information on these theories, visit The Australian Institute of Professional Counselors’ website.

Treatment for Grief

If you have read through some of the sections regarding grief on this or other websites, you may already understand that grief is normal and does not necessarily require treatment. In fact, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) does not list grief or bereavement as a diagnosis that can be given to an individual. We can understand that there may be some complications of grief, or pre-existing mental health diagnoses, such as depression, that can be confusing to discern in the wake of a sudden, unexplained loss of a child.

It can be helpful to seek out the guidance and help from a trained professional, such as a therapist, clinical social worker, professional counselor, or psychologist. Professional support should be sought around the six-month mark if symptoms of complicated grief are present. The American Academy of Bereavement reports that intense grieving lasts 3 months to 1 year. Some people continue to experience profound grief for up to 2 years. Signs that counseling would be helpful include:

  1. Chronic Depression
  2. Desire to die and talk of suicide
  3. Frequent talk of reunion with the deceased child
  4. Inability to eat or excessive eating
  5. Inability to sleep or excessive sleeping
  6. Increased use of alcohol, recreational or prescription drugs
  7. Numbness, flatness or “no feeling at all”
  8. Isolation from family and friends
  9. Hopelessness and helplessness, or the inability to “see the light at the end of the tunnel”

Everyone who has experienced the death of a child has one, some, or all of these feelings or reactions at some point during the grief process. Determining when to seek professional help is a very personal issue. Many couples find that they are understood for the first time in the presence of an unbiased, trained counselor. Certainly when grief becomes overwhelming and no longer manageable, professional counseling should be sought. Help can be found in your community through mental health agencies, places of worship, and hospitals. With the assistance of a professional, your grief can become more manageable.

When to Seek Immediate Assistance

Be aware that during this process it is normal to occasionally express thoughts that may initially feel or sound alarming, such as “I just want to be with my child” or “life’s not worth living anymore now that my child is gone”. This is part of normal grief.

If you express any of the below, immediately notify a family member and go to your local emergency room. You can also call 911.

1. You want to die and you have a plan.

2. You want to hurt your spouse, child, or someone else.

Use the links below to locate your local suicide hotline listings:

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